LIT 529: The American Odyssey
Instructor: Abigail Smith
Spring 2020 (January 13-April 17, 2020)
In her introduction to The Epic Cosmos, Louise Cowan proposes that the grandeur of the epic genre “stems less from a glamorizing of events than from an envisioning of the human lot itself as full of splendid purpose.” She goes on to suggest that this purpose is found only in the “linking of human action to a divine destiny.” This course will consider the genre in this way, recognizing that while the epic impulse drives one Greek hero’s journey across the Aegean Sea, it just as surely compels an American boy’s journey down the Mississippi River.
After an initial exploration of Homer’s Odyssey, we will turn to American manifestations of the epic journey, looking at works such as Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Wm. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, among others.
In this graduate-level course, students are expected to engage in meaningful dialogue with and about these texts, not only with each other, but with the critical conversation of literary scholarship. To that end, we will read at least one scholarly article per text. The culmination of the course will be a paper in which students will place three primary texts in conversation with one another while tracing out a single theme, trope, or image. And, in order to speak to the conversations already happening regarding these texts, inclusion of literary criticism will be a central part of the assignment.